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Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo, and Philippine Senior Undersecretary and Officer in Charge of the Department of National Defense Carlito Galvez at a Joint Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Secretary Manalo, Secretary Galvez, it has been an honor to host you at the State Department for the third ever – and first since 2016 – U.S.-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial alongside Secretary of Defense Austin.  Today’s meeting builds on the momentum of the high-level U.S. visits to the Philippines just over the past year, including by Vice President Harris, by Secretary Austin, and myself.

The Philippines is the United States’ oldest ally in the Indo-Pacific.  Our relationship is based on the shared interests and values of Americans and Filipinos, including our abiding commitment to democracy.  For decades, we’ve worked together to promote peace and stability across the region, and we’re growing that effective partnership in scale and scope every single day, including through very productive, very rich discussions today.

Our security alliance is an enduring source of strength for both of our nations.  Today, we focused on ways to continue our close partnership under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement so that our forces can work even more closely together, including to provide humanitarian assistance and respond to disasters.  Secretary Austin and I also reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to standing with the Philippines against any intimidation or coercion, including in the South China Sea, and to preserving a region that’s governed by international law where goods and ideas and people can move freely.

We also discussed deepening our robust economic ties, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.  We’re working closely with other IPEF partners to build out this framework to help our economies grow faster and fairer so that all our people can reach their full potential, lead on issues shaping the 21st-century economy, and do it in a way that is sustainable for our planet.

One way that we’re putting our partnership through IPEF to work is by collaborating to increase economic opportunities for women and girls in the Philippines.  We’re providing training in growing industries like data science and artificial intelligence, where women have been under-represented, and boosting digital literacy rates.

And more broadly, as we discussed today, we’re committed to expanding our economic cooperation across the board.  Indeed, we discussed a number of areas where we can deepen our collaboration, cooperation in pursuit of that goal.

Together, we’re stepping up to address global challenges that no country can solve alone.  We discussed our shared efforts to combat the climate crisis and strengthen energy security.  The United States is committed to helping the Philippines reach its ambitious goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2030.  To do that, the U.S. Government and critically, the private sector, are supporting the growth of the offshore wind market, the development of nickel and cobalt facilities that will help the Philippines sustainable process – sustainably process minerals essential to the clean energy transition.

We’re also providing technical assistance and regulatory guidance to support the growth of the Philippines’ civil nuclear energy program.  We’re looking to grow our cooperation through a 123 agreement on civil nuclear cooperation which will make it easier for us to share technical knowledge as well as nuclear material and equipment.

We’re delivering solutions to the food security challenges impacting the Philippines like so many other countries.  Philippines-based companies, with the support of the United States Government and the American private sector, are making impressive progress in developing climate-smart food systems, increasing their productivity, and the sustainability of their supply chains.  We’re looking forward to continuing this progress at the inaugural U.S.-Philippines Food Security Dialogue a little bit later this year.

We’re able to do this work not only because of the partnership between our governments but also because of the partnership between our peoples.  This year, we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in the Philippines, the longest running Fulbright Program in the world.  More than 22,000 Filipinos have come to the United States through the Fulbright and other U.S. exchange programs, enriching our communities with their perspectives and experiences, innovating and launching businesses, building enduring bonds between our people – bonds that to this day renew and revitalize the friendship between our countries.

Across all of these areas and more, the United States values and is proud of our robust and deepening partnership with the Philippines.  Secretary Austin and I appreciated the opportunity to discuss in-depth how we’ll make this essential relationship even stronger in the months and years ahead.

So really grateful to our colleagues for being here today, grateful to their teams at the hard work that’s been done, but not grateful simply for their presence but also the spirit in which together we are working to strengthen the bonds between our countries.

Ricky, over to you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Thank you very much, Tony.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Senior Undersecretary and OIC Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., friends from the media, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  I’m very pleased to be here in Washington and to address all of you today.  Some of you were with Secretary Blinken when we held our first meeting in our current capacities in Manila last August.  We agreed then to work together in sustaining the positive momentum and trajectory of Philippine-U.S. relations, including by reconvening our 2+2 ministerial dialogue in 2023.  And I’m happy to report that we have in fact followed through on that commitment.

Today is only the third iteration of our dialogue in the 2+2 format since it was established in 2012.  After a seven-year gap since the second meeting in 2016, this meeting holds particular significance as it further reaffirms our shared commitment to advancing our common priorities as treaty allies and close partners amidst evolving regional and global security challenges.

The joint statement we will issue today, and the various areas it covers, demonstrates the breadth and depth of our bilateral relationship.  We have reached a number of key understandings that the Philippines believes will truly elevate our relationship and translate into direct, substantial, and tangible benefits for our peoples and countries.

At today’s meeting, we redoubled our commitment to modernizing the Philippine-U.S. alliance, recognizing that our partnership will need to play a stronger role in preserving an international law-based international order.  This means ensuring the conduct of high-level and high-impact, high-value joint exercises, trainings, and other related activities.  We especially welcome the United States pledge to fast-track and to ramp up support for the modernization of our defense, civilian law enforcement, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities, especially in the maritime domain, as well as the implementation of EDCA projects and investments in and around EDCA-agreed locations.

I wish to point out that we also underscored the importance of equally ensuring that our modern alliance not only serves as an instrument as peace, but it shall also be a force for good that brings about sustained economic benefits to our two countries, down to our local communities.

Our discussions and proposed ways forwards are aligned with the Philippines’ priorities on agriculture, food security, promoting energy security as we transition to clean energy, boosting trade, and building resilience of our supply chains, as well as enhancing connectivity and digitalization.  Our discussions focused also on areas such as economic cooperation, climate change, renewable energy, economic resilience, and economic security.

Thank you.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Well, good afternoon.  Secretary Blinken, Secretary Manalo, and Secretary Galvez, I’m honored to be here with you today for the third U.S.-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.  As you’ve heard, this is the first of its kind in seven years.

But first, let me just say a few words about the story that I know many of you are tracking.  I was first briefed on the reports of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified material on the morning of April 6th.  And since then, I have been convening senior department leaders daily on our response, and I have directed an urgent cross-department effort.  And we’ve referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation.  Now, I can’t say much more while the Justice Department’s investigation is ongoing, but we take this very seriously.  And we will continue to work closely with our outstanding allies and partners, and nothing will ever stop us from keeping America secure.

Now, let me turn to today’s important discussions.  We’ve come together at an historic moment in our alliance.  For more than seven decades, the U.S. and Philippine forces have trained and fought alongside each other.  And today we’re building on those bonds to bring greater security, stability, and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific for the next 70 years and beyond.  The commitments that we made today will spur even deeper cooperation to help ensure that we’re poised to tackle the defining challenges of our time – together.

We all reaffirmed today that our Mutual Defense Treaty remains the bedrock of our cooperation.  As Secretary Blinken and I have said clearly and repeatedly, the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on either of our armed forces, our aircraft, or public vessels – including our Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.

And so today we built on our work together during my recent visit to Manila and discussed plans to operationalize the four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement locations in Palawan and northern Luzon.  These sites will support combined training exercises and interoperability between our forces to ensure that we’re even better prepared for future crises.

We’re proud of the investments we’re making, and by the end of FY ’23 we expect to have allocated more than $100 million in infrastructure investments at the new and existing EDCA sites.  So those investments will spur job creation and economic growth in local Philippine communities.  We’ve also committed to swiftly finalizing the U.S.– Philippines bilateral defense guidelines, which charts our vision for alliance cooperation across all operational domains, including space and cyberspace.

In the face of coercion and gray zone aggression, Secretary Galvez and I agreed to redouble our efforts to strengthen our combined ability to resist armed attack by modernizing our armed forces.  We also discussed near-term plans to complete a security sector assistance roadmap to support the delivery of priority defense platforms over the next five to ten years, including radars, unmanned aerial systems, military transport aircraft, and coastal and air defense systems.  We’re building on the some 500 defense engagements that our militaries conduct each year, and we’re forging new ties between our militaries and expanding the breadth of our cooperation.

Yesterday, we celebrated the start of our 38th annual Exercise Balikatan.  More than 17,000 troops are participating this year.  It is the largest and most complex iteration in the exercise’s history.  Now the commitments that we made today will further integrate our strong bilateral ties into multilateral networks, including with Japan and Australia, and we discussed plans to conduct combined maritime activities with likeminded partners in the South China Sea later this year as we work to enhance our collective deterrence.

Our alliance is ultimately guided by our deep and enduring commitment to freedom.  So we’re not just allies, we’re democratic allies, and the United States and the Philippines are bound by a common vision for the future – a vision that’s anchored in the rule of law and freedom of the seas and respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states.

And Secretary Galvez, Secretary Manalo, and Secretary Blinken, thank you for your leadership and your steadfast partnership as we build this future together.

Secretary Galvez, the floor is yours, sir.

OFFICER IN CHARGE GALVEZ:  Foremost, my highest courtesies to the Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, to my most esteemed colleague Secretary Enrique Manalo.  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

First of all, we would like to take this moment to express our profoundest thanks to the U.S.  We are grateful to the U.S. Government and the American people for their kind assistance in our current environmental sea disaster in containing the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.  Upon our request for assistance, the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. Navy manifested their unwavering support to its deployment of the Remotely Operated Vehicle, or ROV, as well as the technical support provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to help contain an oil spill.

The timely and efficient response of our allies in providing the technical and material support, amounting to more than $20 million U.S., was very instrumental in mitigating the impact of this environmental disaster on our coastal communities that may affect millions of Filipino people.  The aid and cooperation demonstrates the strength of the Philippine-U.S. defense alliance, and we are very proud to be partner of the United States.  And your commitment to assisting us in this time of need has reinforced the band of friendship and mutual trust between our nations.  We will not forget.

As to vaccine, sir, I would like also to – like to reiterate our appreciation for the 3.6 million vaccine doses donated by the U.S. Government to the Philippines, which save millions of Filipino lives and help our economy to recover.

Today, we have just concluded the third 2+2 ministerial meeting between the Philippines and the United States.  And I am pleased to announce that it had been a most productive meeting, which expanded to even to economic security.  The last time the 2+2 ministerial consultation were convened was in January 2016.  The fact that we are able to convene once again highlights the continued importance and relevance of our partnership and the need for continued dialogue and cooperation on matters of mutual interest.

It is also noteworthy that this is the first time the meeting will be convened under the Marcos administration, which highlights the Philippine Government’s commitment to strengthening our alliance with the United States.  Our meeting today will set the direction that we would like to be the Philippine-U.S. alliance to take in consideration of our present-day realities and common security challenges.

Along this line, I wish to emphasize the strength and credibility of the Philippine-U.S. defense alliance, which is founded on a shared commitment to regional peace, stability, and security.  Our partnership has weathered many challenges in the past and continues to stand strong today.  We reaffirm our commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which is our cornerstone of our partnership.

Our defense establishments recognize the need to work together to enhance our interoperability, increase our defense capacity, and build our resilience against emerging challenges.  To this end, we agreed to explore new areas of cooperation and deepen our existing partnership in key areas such as mutual defense, maritime security, and information/intelligence sharing, and joint sails and solidarity patrols.

We also welcomed the ongoing conduct of the biggest ever Exercise Balikatan, which involved 17,000 forces – 12,000 U.S. personnel, 5,000 AFP personnel, and 111 Australian defense forces and observers from other likeminded countries, which capacitates our armed forces to train and operate together, improve interoperability, and enhance our respective capabilities.

With the announcement of the four additional sites where Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement agreed locations can be developed, and we reaffirm our commitment to work together in implementing the EDCA through the completion of both existing and potential projects.

Lastly, we discussed opportunities for future cooperation with likeminded partners in the region.  We recognize that we cannot address such a wide range of security challenges and that we need to work with other countries who share our interest in accordance with our respective national laws and policies.  We affirm the commitment to sustain regular exchanges through existing platforms, namely the 2+2 ministerial consultations, Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, the Mutual Defense Board, Security Engagement Board, and among others.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that the Philippine-U.S. defense alliance is strong and credible, and we are committed to modernizing our alliance to meet the evolving security challenges of the region.  This alliance is for peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thanks, everyone.  We’ll take three questions.  First we’ll go to Demetri Sevastopulo with The Financial Times. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good afternoon.  I have questions for both sides.  Secretary Austin, can you give us a sense of what kinds and numbers of military assets and personnel that you intend to position or rotate through the EDCA sites in the Philippines?  And can you explain how specifically does this enhanced cooperation increase your ability to prepare for any possible conflict with China over Taiwan?

And to Secretaries Manalo and Galvez, how will the EDCA sites be used if the U.S. and China go to war over Taiwan?  And will there be any restrictions on what the U.S. military can do with the sites?

And finally, Secretary Blinken, this is a China question.  Your relations with China appear to be deteriorating continuously with only sporadic signs of positive developments.  Is this the long-term future of U.S. relations with China, or is there some kind of a realistic way to turn things around?  And when do you expect to go to Beijing?  Thank you.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Well, thanks for your question, Demetri.  EDCA is a key pillar to our alliance.  It provides us the opportunity to train together, to increase interoperability.  And you know, Demetri, interoperability is not something that you can show up at the last moment and snap your figures and achieve.  It’s something that you’ve got to work on each and every day.  And so the addition of these EDCA sites puts us in a position to be able to not only train together but also respond to meet the needs of the Philippines in the event of a crisis like a natural disaster or a requirement to rapidly provide humanitarian assistance.  And so I think it helps us not only work together, but it helps us address the needs of the Philippines as well.  And I think it’s essential to our ability to strengthen our combined deterrence posture.

I think it’s a bit early to try to discuss numbers and specific timing of rotations, but certainly these are things that Secretary Galvez and I will continue to work on going forward.  But again, it is a tremendous opportunity.

I would finally emphasize that whatever we do in the future in terms of rotations and numbers of troops, it is a joint decision between the Philippines and – the Philippine Government and the U.S. Government.  So again, a great opportunity.  I’m excited about the ability to increase interoperability and look forward to continuing our great work together.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Thank you very much for your question.  What I can say at this stage is that the new sites that have been identified, the new EDCA sites, are mainly aimed at increasing or improving interoperability as well as addressing potential human, humanitarian disasters or climate-related disasters.

And in operationalizing these sites, of course, much work still has to be done.  We have to identify the terms and references, how these activities will be undertaken.  So I don’t think we’re really at any stage yet to answer how they might be used.  They’re still open to discussion.  But I think we have already reached an understanding that the basic elements of these sites would be, the basic purposes of these sites would be to address humanitarian disaster-related events, to increase and improve interoperability and training of Filipino and American assets, and also to be in a position to improve the interoperability and perhaps respond to other types of security challenges.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Demetri, with regard to China, you’ve heard me say before, Secretary Austin and others say before, that the relationship between our countries is among the most consequential and also the most complex of any that we have, and the same could probably be said for many other countries.  We’re not reducing it to a bumper sticker, as – again – I’ve said before.  It has different aspects to it: certainly competitive, cooperative in other respects, and in some instances more adversarial.

What we’ve been working to do, first of all, is to make sure that when it comes to our own strategy and our own approach we’re following through on it, making investments in ourselves and our strength at home.  We’ve done that, aligning increasingly with partners around the world, whether that’s in Europe and Asia, and we’ve done that with greater convergence than I’ve seen at any time with key partners on the approach to some of the challenges posed by China, and putting those assets together so that we’re competing very vigorously in upholding our interests, upholding our values, and building our vision for the future.

What I hear from countries around the world and what I believe is profoundly in our interest is for us to manage the relationship with China responsibly.  And our goal is peace, security, stability, and creating opportunity.  It’s not to engage in a new cold war.  It’s not to contain China.  But in doing that, in trying to advance a world that is peaceful, secure, stable, and with more opportunity, we’re going to stand up very vigorously for our values and for our interests, and we’re doing that with regard to China.

We’re also prepared to work cooperatively with China where it’s in our interest and their interest and, I believe, in the interests of the world.  And there are a number of issues that we’ve laid out – transnational challenges that no one country can solve alone where it would benefit all of us and benefit the world for us to find ways to work together.

Through all of this, it’s, I believe, important to maintain channels of communication to make sure that we’re speaking to each other clearly, and we’ve certainly continued to do that even through what’s been a challenging period in our relationship.  I think as our two presidents agreed when they met in Bali at the end of last year at the G20, it would be important to continue to find ways to strengthen those channels of communication.  So we’ll see.  We look to do that in the time ahead.

And when it comes to my own visit to China, when the conditions are right I’ll certainly look forward to pursuing that.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Secretary Austin, you just said that you first learned about the leaked documents on the 6th of April.  They’ve been online for months.  Why didn’t U.S. intelligence, the rest of U.S. Government, see those leaked documents online for all those months?  Is that an intelligence failure?

And I’d like to ask Secretary Blinken that same issue, as well as your conversations with Foreign Minister Kuleba of Ukraine.  We have seen documents that indicate that Ukraine has crossed – with Ukrainian agents working for the government have launched drone attacks in Russia and in Belarus, contrary to commitments that they would not do that.  Are you concerned that this would – will – undermine Western support for Ukraine?  And can you talk about the overall damage that these leaks have caused to our reputation for handling intelligence with our closest allies?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, do you have concerns about sharing intelligence with the United States given the fact that these leaked documents were online for so many months?

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thanks, Andrea.  The documents that we are aware of are dated the 28th of February and 1st of March.  I don’t know if there are other documents that are – that have been online before.  These are things that we will find, find out as we continue to investigate.  But the documents that we are focused on thus far – 28th of February and the 1st of March.  Again, we will continue to investigate and try to determine the full scope of the activity.

QUESTION:  But, sir, why did we know about it and why didn’t you know about it before April 6th?  That means that they were up for at least many weeks, months, before U.S. intelligence knew that they were in the public domain.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Well, they were somewhere in the web, and where exactly and who had access at that point we don’t know.  We simply don’t know at this point.  So – and again, I won’t speculate, Andrea.  I will tell you that we take this very seriously and we will continue to investigate and turn over every rock until we find the source of this and the extent of it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea, my – I don’t have much to add beyond what the Secretary said.  Let me just say with regard to, broadly, allies and partners and these documents, we have engaged with allies and partners at high levels over the past – the past days, including to reassure them about our own commitment to safeguarding intelligence and, of course, our commitment to our security partnerships.

With regard to Ukraine itself, I did speak to Foreign Minister Kuleba today, and in speaking to him, among other things, I reaffirmed our enduring support for Ukraine and for its efforts to defend its territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence; reaffirmed the extraordinary support that we have provided to Ukraine along with dozens of other countries over the last year to help it defend itself, support that will be ongoing and indeed, as you’ve seen just as recently this week, additional support that was provided.

I’m not going to comment on specific actions that Ukraine takes when it comes to defending its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, but we are determined to assist Ukraine in the efforts that it’s making to regain the territory that’s been seized from it, and I reaffirmed that commitment today in speaking to Foreign Minister Kuleba.

QUESTION:  Are you concerned about cross-border attacks?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I’m not going to speak directly to any particular actions, and I’m certainly not going to comment on these purported documents.  But Ukraine has to make decisions about how it can most effectively defend itself against Russian aggression and take back the territory that’s been seized from it.  We give our advice as appropriate, we provide the support; that is well-known.  But Ukraine makes the decisions about how it actually prosecutes the effort to regain its territory.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Oh.  First let me also share the view of Secretary Blinken that we are very confident after – especially after today’s meeting of the commitment to our alliance and our partnership.  And I really don’t want to jump to any speculation or jump to any conclusions at this stage.  We have full confidence in the investigation that will be undertaken.  And certainly we would have to wait for the results before we can even comment.

But just let me say that we are confident of the strength of our relationship and our growing partnership.

MR PATEL:  Final question, Will Mauldin of The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Thank you so much. First for Undersecretary Galvez, the mentioned exercise is going to take place later this year in the South China Sea. I wonder what countries would be involved in those exercises and whether there are any concerns that these exercises or the ongoing ones or different steps that the U.S. is taking with its allies and partners in the region would generate a response – a dangerous response from China.

For Secretary Austin, I wanted to ask:  Irregardless of where the investigation into the documents take us or the veracity of the documents, they’re posted online and definitely seen by the Russians as well as the Ukrainians.  I wonder to what degree this will affect the tactics of the expected Ukrainian offensive this spring or summer.  How – to what degree will their tactics need to change?  To what degree will you recommend changes in those tactics?

Finally, for Secretary Blinken, I wanted to ask about my good friend and colleague Evan Gershkovich.  You found him wrongfully detained, and so I wanted to ask when your staff will be able to get consular access to him in Russia.  What’s taking so long there?  And will there be any leverage that you can exert?  Is there any leverage that you can exert to get Russia to provide that access and what strategies will you work on and will the administration be working on to free him?

Thank you.

OFFICER IN CHARGE GALVEZ:  The Balikatan exercise – this is its 38th activation, and it’s been – we are doing the Balikatan yearly.  And we don’t expect any violent reaction considering that this exercise is intended for our collective defense with the U.S. and other allies.

For today, for this Balikatan, we have the participation of, as I have said earlier, 17,000 troops, including 12,000 Americans, 5,000 Filipinos, and 111 Australians.  We have also observers from the ASEAN nations and also from other allies, and we are happy to say that these exercises are varied exercises on counterterrorism, humanitarian response, and also on developing interoperability with our U.S. forces and also our Australian friends.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Hey Will, thanks for the question.  I just spoke with my counterpart in Ukraine today, Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.  And we talked about a number of issues, but – as we typically do.  But he and the leadership remain focused on the task at hand.  And I have every confidence that they will do what good leaders, great leaders do:  They will fight the enemy and not be driven by a specific plan.  They have a great plan to start and – but only President Zelenskyy and his leadership really know the full details of that plan.

So they have much of the capability that they need to continue to be successful.  We’ve trained an enormous number of troops.  We have provided a substantial number of platforms.  And so I think he feels that he’s in a – they’re in a pretty good position.  And we’ll stay focused on continuing to generate security assistance capability so that they can continue to be successful whenever they choose to take up offensive operations.

And again, sustainment will be there throughout.  We’ll stay connected with our allies and partners.  We next meet for our next round of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on the 21st, and I look forward to seeing him and the rest of our colleagues at that meeting.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And Will, as to your question regarding Evan, yes, I made the determination yesterday that he is being wrongfully detained by Russia.

President Biden had an opportunity to speak to his family today, I believe.  I’ve spoken to your colleagues, including leadership at The Wall Street Journal, multiple times about Evan’s situation.  When I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov about a week ago now, just after Evan was detained, I of course pressed for his immediate release, but I also pressed for immediate consular access to him.  The fact that Russia has not granted that access puts it once again in violation of international commitments it’s made, commitments that are at the heart of diplomatic relations between countries and the ability of our citizens as well to be able to safely be present in other countries.

I think Russia not following through on meeting its obligations to consular access – never mind the practice of detaining people arbitrarily for political purposes – is going to do even more damage to Russia’s standing around the world, a standing that has been in freefall particularly since its reinvasion of Ukraine last year.

And I think it sends a very strong message to people around the world to beware of even setting foot there lest they be arbitrarily detained, and in the context of being arbitrarily detained not even having access for the diplomats who are there to look out for their interests and who, as a matter of solemn international obligations that Russia has undertaken, should be allowed that access.

I’m not going to get into what measures, steps we’re taking or might take to do that.  I can simply tell you that we are engaged every single day in pressing for that access as well as pressing for Evan’s release.

MR PATEL:  Thank you, your Excellencies.